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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Two gunmen were killed and a security guard wounded in an attack Sunday outside a controversial Dallas-area event where organizers were holding a contest for cartoons featuring the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, police said.

The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest, led by prominent conservatives who are critical of Islam, was ending when two men drove up in a car and began shooting at a Garland school security officer, Bruce Joiner, who was apparently helping protect the building, city officials said.

“He was shot in the leg, transported to the hospital and he’ll be fine,” Garland Mayor Douglas Athas said.

The attack lasted only seconds, police said. One of the gunmen was shot immediately by police, and the other was shot and killed when he reached for a backpack, leading police to fear the men may have brought explosives, Athas said.

Officials then evacuated the area as attendees were led away from the front of the building. Police searched for possible explosives in the area late into the night.

The shooting in Garland, a suburb about 20 miles from Dallas, was preceded by messages from two social media accounts that expressed radical Islamic viewpoints.

One tweet, sent at 6:35 p.m., used the hashtag #texasattack. The user wrote, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.” Attendees at the contest didn’t get word about the shooting until about 6:50 p.m.

Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said the department had not been aware of any credible threats against the event.

The gathering was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is led by Pamela Geller, a well-known conservative political personality who has been harshly critical of Islam.

Classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group, the AFDI was behind controversial ad campaigns last year. Its ads on buses in San Francisco cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a “war between the civilized man and the savage.”

Geller is perhaps best known for her opposition to what critics called the “ground zero mosque,” a cultural and prayer center that was slated to be built in New York about two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

In 2010, she led thousands of people in a march protesting the project, which has since been scrapped.

After the shooting, Geller posted an outraged statement on her blog. “This is a war,” she wrote. “This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

A cartoon on the AFDI’s website promoting the contest features a wild-eyed man in a turban wielding a sword, apparently the Prophet Muhammad, and saying, “You can’t draw me!” The hand of an unseen artist replies, “That’s why I draw you.”

The Garland cartoon event was intended as a defiant gesture supporting free speech after the Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Two gunmen opened fire, killing 12 members of the staff and wounding 11.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was prompted by the magazine’s caricature of Muhammad. In Islam, depicting the prophet is considered a sacrilege.

French police identified two brothers with al-Qaida connections, Cherif and Said Kouachi, as the shooters. Both were later killed in a shootout with commandos.

The Garland contest reportedly received about 350 drawings of Muhammad and offered a top prize of $10,000, according to the AFDI’s website.

It also advertised a $2,500 prize for the most popular cartoon, as voted by readers of Breitbart.com, a conservative website.

The keynote speaker was Geert Wilders, a right-wing member of the Dutch parliament. After seeking to ban the Koran, comparing the text to “Mein Kampf,” and calling Islam a totalitarian ideology, the controversial lawmaker faced charges of inciting hatred in the Netherlands, but he was acquitted in 2011.

Athas, Garland’s mayor, said the city was not associated with the politics of the event. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with Garland or Texas,” he said. “It just happened to be in our city. We provided security to make sure everybody would be safe.”

About 200 people attended, said Randy Potts, a contributing editor for the Daily Beast who was covering the event.

The center where the contest took place had been heavily guarded before the shooting, according Potts. “The security, as you can imagine, is pretty extensive,” Potts said. “Even before we came … maybe 50 to 100 feet away from the building, all around, was all blocked off.”

He was about to leave the center when “guys rushed up to us yelling, ‘Get back to the conference room!’ ” he said.

A livestream of the event captured a police official in tactical gear telling the calm crowd that two suspects and a policeman had been shot.

“Were the suspects Muslim?” an audience member asked.

“I have no idea right now,” the police official said, and attendees were ushered back into an auditorium as police attended to the scene outside.

Potts said he didn’t hear any gunfire, but that others inside had heard one to three gunshots.

“It’s pretty calm in here, people are telling jokes,” Potts said from inside the auditorium where the audience was taken. “We all know that security was so extensive we were not actually worried someone would actually get inside the building.”

Two social media accounts tweeted messages about the attack apparently before it happened.

A Twitter account titled “Shariah is Light” _ bearing the image of extremist Islamic propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011 _ posted an allusion to the attack just minutes before it happened.

Before the shooting, the “Shariah is Light” account also tweeted a command to follow another account, titled “AbuHussainAlBritani,” which also tweeted before and after the attack.

“The knives have been sharpened, soon we will come to your streets with death and slaughter!” tweeted the “AbuHussainAlBritani” account before the attack.

After the attack, the “AbuHussainAlBritani” account began tweeting praise of the Texas shooting, and linked the attack to the militant group Islamic State.

“Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire at the … art exhibition in texas!” the account tweeted. “Kill Those That Insult The Prophet.”

“They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,” the account tweeted.

The FBI is providing investigative and bomb technician assistance, a spokeswoman said.

At a news conference, Harn, the police spokesman, said investigators were uncertain of the identities and motives of the gunmen.

Late into the night, the two bodies were left on the street because of concerns that they might have explosives on them, he said.

“We don’t have any idea right now who they are,” Harn said.

(Times staff writers Lauren Raab in Los Angeles and David Zucchino in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.) (c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: (afp.com / Jared L. Christopher) An FBI agent views the area where debris of a car was blown up by police as a precaution, near the Curtis Culwell Center on May 4, 2015 in Garland, Texas

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]